26
Mar
10

New Business

Today this blog shifts in purpose from personal blog to the main page for my new endeavor.

Since moving back to London in late 2009 I have searched for a job that would meet my needs for challenge and provide an opportunity to play a more significant role in my community. Nearly everyone along the way has encouraged me to pursue my passion and that income would result along the way. Nice thought was my response for a long time but I now realize after some discussions that this is actually what I need to do.

My passions are: Urban Planning, City Building, Municipal Politics and governance, Local Economic Development, Social Enterprise and Environmentalism.

My skills are: Interpersonal relations, communications, political strategy, public presentations and public speaking, writing and critical thinking.

My experience: For 7 years I worked for two separate City Councillors (6 years and 1 year) and an additional 3-years in government relations and intelligent transportation systems. In addition, I have a Political Science degree from the University of Western Ontario and have published articles in International Transportation Trade magazines. My reading covers the topics listed in my passions. I have authored numerous articles, brochures and policy papers regarding municipal issues primarily on topics of urban planning, municipal election finance and City Works programs. I have run numerous Municipal Election campaigns and have been asked to run for City Council in both London and Toronto.

The Market: London is a maturing City of 350,000 people with a larger Census Metropolitan Area of 450,000 people. While there are numerous business organizations such as the London Chamber of Commerce, the Tech Alliance and major interests such as the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College, there is a lack of civic organizations that promote civic discourse or that provide either organizing services or urban thought, discussion and policy review.

The purposes of CityThink will be to:

Organize one-day think tanks on urban issues

Provide information about London City issues

Issue regular reports about City growth issues

Engage citizens

Advance progressive issues

Provide Consulting Services to local Community Organizations (communications, Government Relations)

Compile Council voting records

Obviously this is a first go at a short list of some of the potential ideas that such a service could provide. I will be fleshing these out a little more while I prepare a business plan that will identify revenue sources and ‘low-hanging fruit’ for revenue generation and for growing the brand in early stages to gain some recognition and market awareness.

Some of the ideas build from existing examples in other Cities. London may not be large enough for these to exist on their own as of yet but I believe it is vital to start these initiatives and ideally grow each once they have built a following. New York City’s Transportation Alternatives and Streetsblog covers issues about active transportation. Toronto’s Beautiful City Movement (a twist on the turn of the century City Beautiful movement,) Spacing Magazine and Urban Intelligence (which provided both Lobbying and Reporting) as well as Toronto’s Cyclist Union, and the Canadian Urban Institute (part of which is preparing the London Transportation Master Plan – Smart Moves.)

This is no small or easy task but a few projects need to get started to get London’s civic-sector building towards a better future.

BALLE Network – Business Alliance for Local Living Economies have sprung up in places as small as Bellingham Washington and larger Cities like Toronto to promote Local Economic Development. This group will promote people to think Locally when they shop, eat and play. Membership driven with benefits for members encourages a business network that is locally based. Local businesses recirculate many more dollars in the local economy than non-local business. Often these groups get off the ground with a Think Local campaign that first identifies potential members as well as encouraging Locals to purchase from locally-owned businesses. Once membership is at a sustainable level, deeper projects can be pursued such as encouraging more favourable local economic development policies from City government, economic studies to assess subsidies to local vs non-local business and local economic development (creation of investment opportunity.)

Election 2010 – Consulting to local organizations to raise their issues for this year’s election. Elections provide an opportunity for local groups to raise awareness about their issues. Toronto Environmental Alliance and ArtsVote are excellent example of a group that ensures Voters ask candidates about their positions.

Transportation Master Plan – This is a somewhat vague idea. The City has outside consultants (from Toront0) that are working on the TMP but I think there’s a need for a local movement to provide support for what will be forthcoming recommendations as well as to advance the issues identified once the plan has been handed off. I am very passionate about the need for London to grow smartly – which means ensuring Transit-supportive density and building new urbanist communities rather than continuing the sprawl that has defined London’s growth.

I live in Westmount near Southdale Road, a subdivision that typifies the pod-based development pattern that defines Sprawl. Not only are uses segregated into less-than-walkable areas but income-groups and housing-cost types are further segregated. One area contains the Mall, another the Apartment buildings (large, ungainly) another the single-family houses, still another rental apartments and another the High School and public School. Transit runs through the neighbourhood and often carries very few people. The corner stores are one-story and there are numerous cul-de-sacs and crescents.

The Strengthening Neighbourhoods Task Force – identified issues and opportunities for London to build community. Many of these are quite expensive long-term goals. But they are worthy and this grassroots plan deserves the support of local communities as many spell a way to build a safer, more sustainable community.

Center For Social Innovation – London needs more opportunities to build the capacity of local individuals to start small businesses that build sustainable economic interests. Working with existing organizations, CityThink will seek to build a local Center that encourages this growth.

Grassroots campaigns. Have a need to build support for an effort at City Council? Lobbying has changed. No longer can the ‘boys in suits’ simply make the rounds at City Hall or Queen’s Park to move an issue forward. Pressure must be brought to bare on politicians from the grassroots-up. With 10 years experience in this area, CityThink will offer services to help engage communities on your behalf.

City Gardening – There are a number of local groups working to build local community gardens and I think its something we need to move more quickly on and that we can encourage schools to allot space for community gardening where there is interest in the local community. CityThink will engage with these groups to identify spaces and build them.

All of the efforts that CityThink engage in will be based on issues of sustainability. From advancing the cause of healthier, greener, less car-dependent communities to building local organizations and advancing public discourse, CityThink will be guided by the principle that we need quickly to start building a City of the future – not of the past.

If you have further ideas, I’m always welcome to hear them. If you think I’m just nuts and there is no space or that I need to focus more on some issues and less on others, I also welcome that feedback. I don’t possess all the skills required for all of these (for instance, London may find an Energy Map useful to conduct SWOT analysis regarding energy use and production potential.) Let’s hear you London.

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